When we got home, I went straight into my room. Mom must have sensed I needed space and told me she was going to go run errands. Debbie and Tara had booked a hotel and were going to be in town until the seventh, but I didn’t want to see or interact with anyone. Most of my high school friends I’d lost touch with, and I hadn’t been close enough with anyone to call them up and see if they were still in town.
The bed had been made and there were fresh lilies on my desk. On the end table was a “welcome home" card, my favorite stuffed bear from when I was younger and a Hershey bar perched in its lap. I sighed and sat down on the bed. My eyes began to water and I dried them, not wanting to cry here and now. I opened the card. “So happy to have you home,” it wrote. “Happy fourth. Love, Mom.” My hands shook as I tried to open the chocolate. It was half melted from sitting out in the summer heat but it was still good.
I wondered how Tara was doing. I wanted to call her but not when Debbie was around. Maybe we’d have a chance to talk later on our own. All of the interactions we’d ever had were playing again and again in my mind now. We’d been sisters this entire time and we’d never known.
Then, I crawled into my covers and stared up at the ceiling. I felt like a child again here. I realized that I’d heard of Alex Altman before, if she was who I thought she was. Just last year she’d been up for parole, claiming she’d changed. She’d been so young, only 21, when she’d killed. A lot of people had signed a petition to keep her behind bars, so in prison she remained.
I quickly grew antsy laying in bed. The library was a mile and a half away, but maybe the walk would clear my head. I changed clothes and left a note for Mom. It was almost six o’clock by now, and I had no idea what time she was getting back or if she wanted to make dinner or anything when she did. I figured she could always leave me a plate in the oven.
Once I got there, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Finally I found my way to the librarian. She was older, probably old enough to be my grandmother. “Do you have anything on Jay Whitman?”
“What are you looking for?”
“Uh, any books, articles, anything.”
The librarian sorted through some of her papers. “We have a copy of Stories from Eagle Rock. It should be on the shelves.”
“Which one is that?”
“It was released about five years ago. It’s a pretty good overview of everything.” The librarian paused. “You know, that writer is pretty vocal about wanting those girls to get parole. I remember when it happened. I suppose you’re probably too young, but I don’t think anyone who slaughters a poor girl in cold blood has the right to anything. I don’t care how old you are.”
I said nothing. I wasn’t in the mood to discuss opinions about the case “Can I have the reference number, please?”
She wrote it down for me. “Sure honey,” she said. “Have a good night.” I nodded and walked off to find it.
There was almost no one in the library, and the quiet was eerie. Finally I found the book.. It was smaller, shorter than I thought it would be. “Stories from Eagle Rock, by Joanne Davis” in red font. It took me a minute to notice the black and white photo on the cover. There were two girls. One blonde, the other brunette. They were in grimy clothes and their hair was tangled, but they seemed happy.
I took the book and found a place to sit down. It was cool and comfortable in the library and I didn’t want to walk home just yet. First there was a chapter about what exactly happened on July 6th, 1971. Three people died. Margaret Kelly, an Olympic swimmer and four time gold medalist, her best friend since childhood, Charlotte Wade, and Charlotte’s husband David. Margaret was 25. Charlotte was 26. David was 28. They’d been in town to keep Margaret company over the Fourth of July weekend while her fiancé was out of town. Later, they would be linked to two additional deaths, those of 24 year old Simon Linton and 38 year old drug dealer Tommy Hansen. They were a cult of fifteen mostly young women. They lived in cabins in an old mining encampment in the Eagle Rock campground. The entry ticket into the cult, for the girls, was to have sex with the leader, Jay. He was a man who had been born in Idaho in the 1930s and then moved to Wyoming where he met his wife, Sarah. Together they’d moved to Montana and had a son, Adam. The marriage had ended when he got caught forging numerous checks and was sent to prison. Sarah divorced him. He got out in 1968, and shortly thereafter met Alex Altman. He was 34 and she was 17, but to him, and I guess to her, that didn’t matter.
I had to stop before I could read any more. I reasoned that I had to either be dreaming or imagining this entire day. There was no way this man was my father, that Mom could have fallen for someone like him. Besides, Mom was 46. I wasn’t sure when exactly she’d joined this cult but she was 20, almost 21, when I was born in 1971. She’d always mentioned my father was older, but that would have put Jay in his late thirties. Then it hit me. I reread the sentence about him having a son before with his wife. If that was true, that meant I had another brother somewhere out there.
I paged through the book looking to see if it had an index, and sure enough it did. I scanned for my mom’s name. There it was. “FOX, CLAIRE”. She seemed to be a rather significant part of the book from the amount of pages that mentioned her name.
I flipped to the first page that mentioned her name. “With the landing of Neil Armstrong on the moon came another addition to the burgeoning group. Claire Fox was a redheaded nineteen year old who was born in England and had moved to the United States with her family in 1966. She’d tried a year at the University of Iowa before deciding that summer that she wasn’t going to go back to college. After moving out of her apartment with no notice to her landlord, she was picked up by Whitman hitchhiking. According to Fox, she was immediately charmed by him and the two had an intense, passionate sexual encounter that first night.” I closed the book. I couldn’t read anymore, and not just because I didn’t want to think about my mother having sex. After a few passages I skimmed over, the book shifted at that point to talking about Margaret’s life in 1969. There was a picture of her and Charlotte at one of those Apollo 11 Ticker Tape parades. It was hard to think that they were my age when they died, their lives over at a point when I felt like I hadn’t done anything with mine. Still, I resolved that I would check out the book so that I could finish it later.
It was then that I looked up and saw my mother standing there. She scared me so badly I ended up losing my grip on the book and it went flying about ten feet away from me. She picked it up and then sat next to me.
“I got your note,” she said. “I thought we could go out for ice cream.”
“We haven’t had dinner yet.”
“We can have it before,” she said. I pursed my lips. When I was younger, I often got in trouble for sneaking sweets before dinner. One day when I was six, I asked her what the problem with that was. Between buying my plane ticket, the nice lunch, how she’d done my room and now this, I could tell that she was trying really hard and probably felt bad. But I was still upset. This day still didn’t feel like it had really happened. Then, she handed me the book. I kept waiting for her to say something about it, but she didn’t.
“Mom, you can’t just show up here. You scared me.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know when you were going to be home.”
“This is a big thing to spring on me out of nowhere,” I said.
She said nothing.
“Were you in love with him?”
She didn’t hesitate. “I was.”
“I’m going to check this out,” I said.
“You know, I could probably tell you about anything in that book,” she replied. From her facial expression, it seemed that she realized the trap she led herself into as soon as the words left her mouth. “Is that why you never said anything about this until today? Why you actively hid it from me?”
“Amy. I know I messed up.”
“Tara and I were sisters this entire time and we never knew.”
I realized then that were talking very loudly, as I notice a middle aged woman glaring in our direction before she sshed us. As mad as I was, there was a part of me that understood Mom would have done things differently if she could have gone back, and was trying to fix it now. “Ice cream would be nice,” I said. “But I am going to get the book.”
We got up and started walking towards the entrance.